Queen – “Let Me In Your Heart Again” (Song Discussion)

This month saw the release of a new Queen compilation; Queen Forever. In order to differentiate from the other worn out Greatest Hits collections previously released, this time both album tracks and singles are collected, under the theme of classic love songs. There’s some decent deep cuts, Nevermore off Queen II (which I wrote about here) is a beautiful and not too well known Freddie Mercury ballad. Jealousy is a favourite of mine from Jazz and one of Brian May’s best non-singles, Sail Away Sweet Sister is a great inclusion.

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But the stand-out is by far the forgotten unfinished song from The Works’ sessions, Let Me In Your Heart Again. Written by May, it’s a touching and earnest heavy-ballad, comparable to earlier stadium hits like Somebody To Live or Save Me but with it’s own unique energy. Some of the melodies are recognizably similar to other May songs written around the same time, the bridge/solo being of similar melodic structure to Hammer To Fall. The lyrics seem slightly unfinished, with certain verses appearing rather aimless in sentiment;

When People Talk Of Love
I Have No Hesitation
( It’s Your Heart Again)
Tell Me What Your Dreaming Of
I’ll Hold That Conversation For You Best
( it’s Your Heart Again)

Not the most deep lyrics ever on the subject of love, but this is made up for by the narrative that runs through the rest of the lyrics; of a man putting on a brave face in response to the questioning of others, but who’s heartbreak is transparent. Much better lyrics are found in the first verse;

When People Talk Of Love
I’ll Lead The Conversation
I’ll Say I Feel Just Fine
Happy With My Situation

But When I Look Away ha
People Know My Mind Is Straying
To Where I Once Belonged
Dreaming About Your Heart Again

Brian May was near the end of his first marriage upon the time of writing this song, so I can only wonder if that was an influence on the lyrical content. But lyrics aside, the reason why this song is worth talking about is of course Mercury, and hearing such a strong vocal from him twenty four years after his death, when one assumed they had heard all they would ever hear of Fred, is pretty remarkable.

The vocal take sounds raw – it may have well been the demo vocal. There has probably been a lot of studio processing to brighten it up. A fantastic bass track from the now retired John Deacon is also heard on the track. I believe it’s Fred’s original piano take, though am unsure. Brian and Roger have added new backing vocals and guitars, and it really does sound fantastic. It’s a great piece of songwriting and I’ve not heard many posthumous releases this strong. If only there was more. It would have been great on their first posthumous albums Made In Heaven and perhaps would have been the single that album was missing – a bit of dramatic, heart-on-the-sleeve balladry to distract from the themes of death that permeate the rest of Heaven. Queen’s final album released during Fred’s life, Innuendo is also strikingly dark and worth a listen if you haven’t checked it out.

Producer William Orbit provides a second version of the song, remixing it into a synth heavy pop anthem, aligning the song with the poppier side of 80s Queen, i.e. Radio Gaga and A Kind Of Magic. I wasn’t sold on this version at first, although it was the first version of the new song I’d heard. The drums seemed slightly to quiet, the synth and bass too loud, and all kinds of studio effects were used and thrown around the place, bit-crushed drums, distorted vocals, a pitch shifted operatic section in the middle. It still seems a bit thrown together, but the new melodies he includes have grown on me, to the extent that I almost prefer this version. I think Freddie would have led the song towards this dramatic vibe had he still been around. This version ends with an emotionally charged outro which places the pre-chorus and chorus vocals over the bridge melody. An inspired improvisation that works. At six minutes long, it reaches towards Bohemian Rhapsody epic-ness, perhaps with mixed results. But I could have gone for another eight reworked demos such as this.

If this is the last original song we get from Queen so be it. It’s a pretty fantastic final note, even if it would have been that much better with a whole album to go with it, rather than another compilation. But to be hearing new material featuring Fred at this stage, and of this caliber – can’t complain really.

queen 1973 3Though it might be a bit of a corporate plug, Coke is donating a bunch of money to AIDS research for the sponsor rights to the new Queen remix. It’s a good cause no doubt, can’t help but be cynical towards the free advertising the company gets however.

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Queen + Adam Lambert Auckland 3rd September [Concert Review]

Note: Footage from the concert below and on my YouTube page

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I’m going to find it hard to review this concert – for being a Queen fan for so long there’s so many memories and expectations tied up in seeing an influential band like this finally, in the flesh. But it was a great experience, yes for the fact of seeing Brian and Roger in the flesh but they put on a damn good show regardless of any cynicism one might have about a band still touring decades after the death of their beloved front man. It’s by now getting cliched to compare Lambert to Mercury but I’m going to have to do it never the less. As the other fans and reviews suggest – Adam is a great fit for the band and does indeed make the songs his own, finding his own stage presentation to fit the songs, his own unique flamboyance – playing tribute to Freddie but not copying his style. I can’t claim to be an Adam Lambert fan so I still found myself comparing his performance to the way Freddie would have delivered a song, but that’s going to happen if you’ve spent as much time obsessing over a band as I have done with Queen. But if anyone was going to take this show back on the road with the original members and give it new life, it may as well be Lambert – he’s got a great voice and the stage experience to rock an arena or stadium audience with ease.

The Adam Lambert fans might not agree with me – but the parts of the show that hit me the hardest were when Brian took the mic, first performing Love Of My Life, with Freddie appearing on the large screen to help us sing key moments. This was a live staple from 1975 onwards, the acoustic sing-along of Love Of My Life and there was something so touching about a room of 8,000 singing it along with Brian, with Freddie appearing momentarily. It was just nice to hear Freddie’s voice once again booming throughout an arena. At the end of the song it looked like Brian wiped his eyes, perhaps as affected as the audience at singing along with his lost friend. Roger, long-time Queen keyboardist Spike Edney, touring bassist Neil Fairclough and Roger’s drummer son Rufus Taylor joined May for a stomping jam through of May’s 39″ off Night at the Opera. One of my highlights of the night for sure.

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The show was great – high production values with one of the most impressive lighting rigs I’ve ever seen at an arena show, a huge screen that was made to appear as the circular Queen ‘Q’ logo. The rig that made up the Q itself moved over the band in a spectacular fashion, reminiscent of the moving lighting rigs Queen employed in tours between 1977 and 1986. During Lap of the Gods, the fantastic final song off Sheer Heart Attack the giant circle light detached from it’s place in the center of the stage and turned into quite the magnificent ring hovering over the band. Lap of the Gods is a brilliant song – and this was a performance well worthy of previous Queen performances of the song – such as at Wembley in ’86. Brian May later took a guitar solo, incorporating parts of his Bijou guitar piece from Innuendo, and filling the arena with his trademark delay harmonizing. This was set to a hypnotizing array of red lasers and cosmos-esque images.  Visually, very elaborate – and perfectly fitting to a the legacy of the Queen live show.

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Other musical highlights include a drum battle between Roger and Rufus, both amazing drummers – Roger with his very unique tom heavy style, and Rufus a technically skilled modern rock drummer. Roger took lead vocals for A Kind Of Magic, great to hear the man singing and would have loved to hear more of him. Neil Fairclough provided the best bass solo I’ve ever heard, dropping in riffs from Queen classics such as Nevermore off Queen II, Don’t Try Suicide from The Game and Body Language and Staying Power from the underrated Hot Space. Adam performed the lesser known songs really well, stuff like Dragon Attack off The Game. It was kind of amazing to hear a song such deep cuts played live and still sounded as fresh as when they were first toured.

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The show ended with the traditional onslaught of Queen hits – Tie Your Mother Down with Rufus Taylor on drums, I Want To Break Free, Radio Gaga with the crowd doing their best to imitate Live Aid and Crazy Little Thing Called Love. Then it was on to Bohemian Rhapsody, with Lambert nailing the vocals as a singer as trained as him should. But the original members could not be out-shined – Brian taking his place at the base of the walkway, busting out the most iconic guitar solo he ever wrote while wearing a shiny gold suit reminiscent of the band’s early 70s glam attire. Freddie appeared again on screen in the operatic section of the song and again at the end in a duet with Lambert, each singing a line each. Freddie was most definitely watching over proceedings, but Lambert held his own. The night ended as all Queen gigs have since again 1978, with We Will Rock You followed by We Are The Champions. Lambert wore a crown in regal style, and they all stood together side by side taking one last bow towards the crowd which was by now well and truely one over. Brian and Roger are playing their cards right, appearing to still love performing to the adoring masses, and securing their legacy for many more decades thanks to the suitable front-man they’ve found in Adam Lambert. As another reviewer mentioned, with so many classic rock bands unwilling to tour for the fans (such as Zeppelin and Floyd) – it’s a lucky thing that we have a band such as Queen so dedicated to keeping the legacy alive. That is if we leave our cynicism at the arena doors.

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I may have been slightly unfair on Lambert at times – but this is only due to being such a strong fan of the original Queen. The show they’ve put together really is something special, even if it yet again seeks to highlight to lost talents of the unmatched Freddie Mercury in some ways. A part of me thinks they don’t need to still be touring in this way, Brian and Roger both have amazing voices and are great songwriters and performers in their own right, they could have each focused on their solo careers instead of continuing with the world conquering beast that is Queen. I’m divided as to whether I think they should keep touring for many more years – part of me would love to see the show again, but the other part of me feels it’s a great tribute, perfect for a fleeting moment for fans and the band to get together and celebrate their legacy, but perhaps one that should stick around just long enough for it’s best qualities to be appreciated. I hope for a few festival dates at least, they’re putting on a show that feels much larger than the arena’s it’s being staged in. At the end of the day, I’m pretty amazed I’ve had the chance to see any of these Queen members in the flesh and hear these songs live. Credit to Lambert for putting his solo career on hold to play this part in Queen – there’s not many singers who could do as good a job as he has – he’s a much better fit than Paul Rodgers, having the vocal chops, the right glam image and the chemistry with the remaining Queen members to pull it off.

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To end this review on a hardcore fan note, I waited outside the venue (the next night, after getting a spare ticket to the 2nd show) for many hours with some other New Zealand and Australian Queen and Adam Lambert fans. Brian took the time to stop and meet the fans, a real honor and it shows how humble a guy he is. The best I could manage was to tell Brian some of my earliest memories were listening to his music. I don’t remember his reply, I was too in awe of standing next to the guitarist who I’d been looking at on album covers for such a long time. Still haven’t learnt how to keep my cool when meeting heroes or people I admire.

Brian May meeting New Zealand fan

Queen II: An under-rated gem (and a brief history of a fan)

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It’s not really cool to be a Queen fan and it probably never has been, for whatever closed-minded reasons. I overheard one person saying that Queen fans were up there with Tool fans for the worst fan-base around. In spite of this, I’m going to break no new ground with this post but instead do what fans do best; praise the achievements of their idols. From this I hope that readers will at least check out some of the fairly overlooked (in terms of their catalogue) but impressive gems hidden within Queen‘s second album.

Early Childhood of Queen

I’ve been listening to Queen nearly all my life. Some of my earliest memories are digging through my parents record collection, destroying and absorbing them. A particular favourite of my younger self was Queen’s Greatest Hits, of which we had a warped copy of. I remember taking the record around to my grandmas house and attempting with her to iron out the warp, which didn’t work. Never the less I kept playing the disc, regardless of the skipping and scratches, which to my young mind seemed just as much a part of the music as the drums and guitar. I would take the record along with me to kindergarten – and not really interested to play outside – I would rather stand inside by the record player and listen to it spinning. I remember the record player being on an extremely high shelf, that I would have to crane my neck up to see. An enjoyable early memory indeed.

Probably rocking out to Queen

Probably rocking out to Queen

Since then I’ve been through all kinds of Queen phases. I received Made In Heaven as a gift just after it was released in 1995; I remember hearing of the albums release through a news article, and with the naive mind of a child tried to figure out how Freddie was able to send his vocals back down from the afterlife. That album was perhaps a bit too dark for a 5-year old, but I’ve grown to love it – one of the better posthumous releases. Later in my childhood I would dissect their music videos through VHS rentals, captivated by Freddie and the band, totally unaware of his sexuality and not understanding the cause of his death.

In my teens I would rediscover Queen through the re-release of Live At Wembley on DVD. I would gradually start collecting their albums on vinyl, albums I had been curious about since staring at their discography within the Greatest Hits liner notes as a young one.  My introduction to the first two albums, Queen and Queen II was via a double sided cassette compilation that I was playing on a tape walkman as curiously late as the early 2000s (apparently beating the hipsters to the cassette trend). I’ve loved Queen I for some time, with great lesser known anthems such as Liar and Great King Rat, but it wasn’t until the last few weeks that I feel I’ve really unlocked Queen II. It turns out to be nowhere near the sophomore slump, and could quite possibly be their best album.

Re-discovering Queen II

My appreciation for Queen II lies predominantly in the second side of the album (vinyl edition), dubbed ‘side black’, though ‘side white’ (the first side) is great as well. Brian May writes nearly all of ‘side white’, which Roger Taylor contributing one song. Not to diminish their contributions, they’re a great introduction to album. May opens the album with the perhaps Pink Floyd influenced Procession, which links into his early epic of his Father To Son. Freddie gives a great vocal job, and there’s a slight psychedelic folk vibe running through the song, and a similiar song structure to Liar off the first album. This links into May’s White Queen, a live favorite from the early years of Queen, before Roger Taylor finishes the side with Loser In The End a glam rocking tribute to the sometimes rocky relationships of mother’s and sons (probably intentionally connecting thematically with Father To Son earlier). The riff reminds me some what of T.Rex’s Children Of The Revolution, yet it’s a heavier groove than that song, thanks to Roger’s slamming drums (an influential and all things said, pretty underrated rock drummer). Now onto ‘side back’…

Every man and his dog knows Bohemian Rhapsody – the very memorable intro riff, the complex song structure, heavy metal section and operatic vocals. But not many people, not even Queen fans (except the die-hards, or those interested in progressive rock albums), have fully dived into the second disc of Queen II. I’m assuming once it was well known amongst Queen fans, probably when they were fewer, when they first helped to get the disc on the charts in 1974, and packed out their first arena and stadium shows – before the We Will Rock You’s, the Bites The Dust’s and the Radio Ga Ga’s. Everything that made Bohemian Rhapsody such a massive and iconic hit is evident in the second side of Queen II, except arguably, it’s better. It hits a lot harder, the melodies are more complicated, the song structures and overdubs even more overboard. At least to my ears. It’s a little less accessible and obvious as Bohemian Rhapsody, the lyrics a bit vaguer. It feels like a songwriter reaching to the absolute top of abilities, and pushing the band around him to pretty incredible levels.

 

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Side Black opens up with the bombastic rock epic of Ogre Battle,showing the diversity of Freddie’s writing ability even as of the early 70s. It features the kind of proto-metal, bluesy riffs that are a staple of early Queen, showing their often overlooked Zeppelin and Sabbath influences. The lyrical content concerns as the title suggests, a battle against a giant ogre creature that can swallow oceans and other such metaphors. A lot of early Queen lyrically seems strongly fantasy influenced; J.R. Tolkien and such, more so from Freddie than Brian and Roger I think (Deacon wouldn’t contribute a song until the 3rd album, Sheer Heart Attack). The song is damn catchy and became a live standard up until about 1977 – 78. On a side not, there’s even got a Super Nintendo/N64 series named after this song.

A gong hit at the end of Ogre Battle segues into the vaudeville progressive rock of The Fairy Feller’s Master Stroke, a song I’d previously overlooked until recently. The song is named after a 19th century painting by English artist Richard Dadd; the painting itself is impressively detailed and apparently took nine-years to paint. It’s another progressive hard rock jam, with an infectious chorus and very short verses, decorated with elaborate operatic vocal harmonies and lead work. I’d say it’s one of the odder songs of Freddie’s and yet it’s very infectious and probably could have been a single. It was thought to have never been played live, but an upcoming remastered version of Queen’s 1974 shows at the Rainbow in London is to their one and only performance of it. The short clip on youtube sounds pretty amazing.

The painting that influenced the song

The painting that influenced the song

We then have a piano ballad titled Nevermore which is nice and sweet but not particular stand-out, though connects to Fairy Feller’s Master-Stroke in a way not dissimilar to The Beatles’ Abby Road medley, showing the impressive early ambition of the band, and Freddie’s ability to write an entire sequence of songs with relative ease. This segues into the highpoint of the album; and of early Queen in general, the precursor to Bohemian Rhapsody; overshadowed by that tracks might but no less impressive in terms of composition complexity; The March Of The Black Queen. I could listen to the song and describe the songs structure; how it segues from intro, to heavy sequence, to some other operatic sequence; fakes an ending and then returns with a orgasmic-ally fulfilling ending – or you could just listen for yourself:

A sort of Beach Boys-via-progressive Medieval rock track turns up next Funny How Love Is, before the big single that broke them in the UK, a vocal-remake of Seven Seas Of Rhye from the first album. You should all know that one already. A great hit single concludes a very ambitious album from a band that weren’t really that successful at the time; they were barely known at all. To quote queensongs.info, “in August 1973, Queen were still ‘commoners’, who’d failed to chart and who were lucky to be paid to make a second album at all”. Which makes the risks they took, and skills on display as such as fresh band even more impressive.

I feel I am getting increasingly bad at describing these songs, and it’s descending into fan-boy worship territory, so I’d better stop here. But to conclude, Queen II is really under-rated, go listen to it (side one is great as well, even though I skimmed over it in this review). I’ll be seeing Queen live with new replacement singer Adam Lambert in September, and while it’s easy to be cynical towards bands that are still turning out to fill arenas and make the cash decades after the deaths of their beloved front-men, I’ll put any pessimism to the side and appreciate seeing some of my life-long heroes, live and breathing, in the same room as me. You can be sure there will be another blog covering that show to come.

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